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When Nashville SC’s GEODIS Park opens its doors for its first Major League Soccer match on Sunday afternoon it will immediately enter position itself as one of the best purpose-built venues in the league.

But although the cantilever roof, compact seating bowl and safe standing areas are all impressive, the most notable detail is not what it will feel like to watch a game at Nashville’s new home, but how many can attend.

The 30,000-seat venue will be the largest in the U.S. or Canada built specifically for soccer. And if Nashville can reliably and regularly fill it, other clubs might rethink their future stadium plans.

That’s because Nashville’s GEODIS Park bucks recent MLS construction skewing toward a smaller footprint. Of the five previous largest previous purpose-built venues in the league, only one opened in 2008 or later. Two — Portland’s Providence Park and Toronto’s BMO Field — have undergone expansion renovations since 2015 that made them among the league’s largest.


10 Largest Soccer-Specific Stadiums In MLS

Stadium (Team — capacity)

  1. GEODIS Park (Nashville SC — 30,000)
  2. BMO Field (Toronto FC — 28,351)
  3. Dignity Health Sports Park (LA Galaxy — 27,000)
  4. TQL Stadium (FC Cincinnati — 26,000)
  5. Exploria Stadium (Orlando City — 25,500)
  6. Red Bull Arena (New York Red Bulls — 25,000)
  7. PNC Stadium (Houston Dynamo — 22,039)
  8. Banc of California Stadium (LAFC — 22,000)
  9. Q2 Stadium (Austin FC — 20,738)
  10. Toyota Stadium (FC Dallas — 20,500)

By contrast, all of the 10 smallest facilities in the league opened in 2008 or later. Six of the eight most-recent soccer-specific venues opened in MLS have ranged between 18,000 and 22,000 seats.

Not all MLS clubs play in stadiums built specifically for soccer. Atlanta United, Charlotte FC, Chicago Fire FC, New England Revolution, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps all play in larger venues built for American or Canadian football. Atlanta, Charlotte and Seattle are the current MLS attendance leaders, all drawing more than 30,000 a game. And only New England has expressed any interest in constructing their own facility — more to be closer to their younger and more urban fan base than because of stadium dissatisfaction.

But if Nashville can thrive while operating a stadium with a profile larger than other soccer stadiums but smaller than gigantic NFL venues, those second-tenant teams might someday want to follow.

The key is not only Nashville filling the stadium for their own games, but also to make the venue a profitable one with civic benefit beyond first-team use. That’s probably a little bit trickier in a stadium of 30,000 seats than with 18,000. But teams with larger fanbases would only really see a move to their own venue as feasible if it made financial sense. The ability to play on natural grass and avoid fall scheduling conflicts just isn’t enough to convince the Sounders or United to abandon current arangements.

Nashville’s success could also impact the aspirations of future expansion teams. When St. Louis City begins play next year, it will do so in a 22,500-seat venue. But the potential 30th, 31st and 32nd MLS expansion teams might very well think bigger.

Nashville’s track record suggests filling their new stadium is doable. But not a given.

After Covid-19 related capacity restrictions were lifted from Nashville’s home games last spring, the club averaged 21,208 fans per game in its final 14 home matches (including one playoff game). Those were played at Nissan Stadium, whose primary tenant is the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

The club says it has sold more than 21,000 season tickets for 2022 amid the excitement of the first new sports venue opened in the city since minor league baseball stadium First Horizon Park opened in 2014. Sustaining that interest will be the challenge.

2022 Top 10 Average Home MLS Attendance

Through Week 8

  1. Atlanta United (49,026)
  2. Charlotte FC (41,634)
  3. Seattle Sounders (31,780)
  4. LA Galaxy (25,549)
  5. Portland Timbers (23,579)
  6. LAFC (22,069)
  7. Toronto FC (21,808)
  8. Austin FC (20,738)
  9. FC Cincinnati (20,704)
  10. Real Salt Lake (20,063)

One other interesting note: Of the top 10 clubs in home attendance through Week 8 of the MLS season, three play in American football stadiums, four play in soccer stadiums with more than 25,000 seats, and three play in soccer stadiums with fewer than 25,000 seats.

Whether Nashville SC can fill its new stadium, this data suggests it’s not harmful to the overall gate to have more available seats.

This goes against the argument some sports executives make that limiting supply can create more demand. Instead, it appears that demand is more closely linked to the strength of clubs’ marketing and community presence. And winning matches doesn’t hurt, either.

Source: Forbes

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